Lobbying: "why companies now have a vested interest in engaging in positive public affairs?" WEMEAN Manifesto

Guilhaume Jean

If there's one thing that's always worth remembering in lobbying, it's the crucial and growing role played by the State in the life and future of French companies since the health and economic crisis of Covid-19.

As the National Assembly's Finance Committee examined the "Recovery Plan" mission appropriations within the PLF 2021 last night, the debate on the conditionality of public aid to companies is growing even within the ranks of the parliamentary majority. So much so, in fact, that a government amendment to this effect may be tabled in the public session. The commitment of companies to the success of public action in the territories is now becoming a strategic compass for public affairs.

Positive corporate impact as a condition for institutional impact

As a result of the challenges inherent in the purpose of companies, parliamentary debates on the Pact Act and the new generation of business leaders, a political consensus is now taking hold on the necessary contribution of companies to society, no longer through corrective actions on the margins of their business but at the very heart of their activity, due to their human, financial, economic, social, environmental and territorial impact.

State, business and local authorities are now working together to overcome the classic and sterile dichotomy of public and private : faced with an ambitious State with modest resources, public authorities and public opinion now expect businesses to make a resolute contribution to the common good, by committing themselves to the collective interest through the transmission of tried and tested solutions, based on their expertise and feedback from the areas where they are based.

It would be wrong to think that these expectations are the result of a health and economic crisis: on the contrary, they signal a shift in the public affairs register, from the ethic of corporate responsibility to that of commitment to society. In concrete terms, we no longer expect companies to correct their negative externalities, but rather to mobilize and demonstrate their positive impact. In other words, their ability to make tangible advances that benefit society in economic, social, economic and environmental terms. The examples are legion: contributing to the viability and sustainability of local communities by securing jobs (developing training and integration opportunities for young people), taking part in societal issues (promoting equal pay for men and women), environmental issues (reducing soil pollution), and now also health issues (ensuring protection for employees and the general public). 

▶️ This is a sign of the revitalization of the social contract between public authorities and private players, in which the company has its rightful place to contribute to the stability of society and the sustainability of territories by co-constructing proven solutions and creating viable consensus in a society that is now " archipelagic" (L'archipel français, Jérôme FOURQUET, Seuil, 2019).

From now on, positive impact is no longer an option or an opportunity, but an imperative for companies, in that it conditions their ability to be truly listened to and considered by the authorities in their institutional advocacy. 

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From the raison d'être... to the reason not to disappear from the institutional debate 

Managers who can demonstrate the usefulness of their companies in their local areas and their contribution to society will be the ones who, in the future, will be listened to by public authorities and will be able to argue their positions with them with legitimacy, listening and support. 

Faced with regulatory inflation and the growing weight of public policy, no company today can afford to disappear from the institutional arena. It would be illusory to ignore the public authorities' new expectations of companies in terms of their contribution to society, and to perpetuate lobbying strategies that privilege the "defense" of a presumed "influence" and the obstruction of an immutable "network", to the detriment of contribution, commitment and trust. Experience shows that the impact of public affairs depends far more on the social acceptability of the company than on its financial and network resources alone.

This is why the challenge for companies is to fully embody this unprecedented role of contributor to society, by becoming genuine partners of public authorities, identified, listened to and convincing in the advocacy of their positions.

All integral parts of the problem? All part of the solution. Provided they meet the expectations of public authorities, and incorporate their positive impact into their national and territorial lobbying strategies.

From truly positive impact to resolutely positive lobbying

Positive lobbying is in fact both a strategy of action and a method of interaction with public authorities, combining a positivist method (facts before arguments) and a positive approach (contribution before solicitation): the aim is to position the company as an essential partner of public authorities, capable of co-constructing and inspiring the public agenda rather than being subjected to it .

By integrating the expectations of public authorities towards companies in terms of sharing expertise, feedback and trust, companies have everything to gain by engaging in lobbying that is resolutely positive, because it is committed, expert and ethical, in order to better advocate their positions to public authorities: 

  • 🙏🏻 Lobbying that is positive because it is " committed ": by contributing to public action through the transmission of proven solutions before soliciting and seeking to obtain. Example: assess the impact of a legal standard in a given territory, to identify what works and what doesn't, and thus better assert the company's position in its lobbying. 
  • 💡 Positive lobbying because it's " appraised ": through a logic of systematic evidence to better underpin the company's advocacy arguments. Example: base every position the company puts forward on tangible, expert and budgeted evidence.
  • Positive lobbying because it's " ethical ": using a method of transparency and consultation with public authorities to create and maintain a bond of trust. For example, publish your arguments and data, and keep your contacts informed on an ongoing basis, so as to better alert them and benefit from their support in emergency situations. 

▶️ More concretely? By positioning the company as a partner of public authorities, positive lobbying aims to inspire the political agenda by including its priorities and recommendations. This is what the French industrial sector has done, for example, by putting the issues of Industry 4.0 funding and cybersecurity on the agenda within the "France Relance" and future Territoires d'industries calls for projects: the contents of position papers have then sometimes been translated into articles in the 2021 Finance Bill! 

Positive, multi-benefit lobbying for the company

A positive lobbying strategy has a number of benefits for the long-term survival of a company's activities, its economic development and its ability to make its positions heard by public authorities, sometimes in the face of competitors.  

▶️ Lobbying is the answer:

  1. The company's strategic imperatives: to be visible in relation to its competitors, to be legitimate in arguing its position, to have an impact in the debate.
  2. Public authorities' expectations of companies: expertise, commitment and ethics.
  3. The institutional objectives inherent in any lobbying strategy for a company: to be identified as a reference to be followed, to be heard in the media noise, to be followed in the advocacy of its positions.
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Making a better case for your positions through objective management of the institutional debate 

This positivist approach to lobbying goes beyond parliamentary and governmental circles, as it requires a field of monitoring and action that extends to the whole of institutional public debate : it involves adopting a holistic view of public debate, from the day before an amendment is tabled to the evaluation of weak signals in the media agenda.

Finally, this positivist method of lobbying cannot do without an objective approach : this is what WEMEAN 's public affairs team does on a daily basis, for example, by basing all our analyses and recommendations on tangible, objective and measurable data, using tools and algorithms, notably through the agglomeration of public open data.

Any public affairs strategy can only have a lasting and credible impact if it is truly in line with the company's purpose: it is precisely because the company has been able to deploy its purpose and translate it into its raison d'agir that it can interact sustainably with its stakeholders and make an impact with public authorities.

This is what WEMEAN's Positive Advice ® is all about, making meaning and purpose the foundation of strategy, the condition for performance, the lever for involvement and the key to contributing to the common good. 

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